Freida Pinto was a model in Mumbai before Director Danny Boyle cast her in “Slumdog Millionaire,” and her acting career was officially launched. There is no question that the camera loves her, and Director Michael Winterbottom can hardly be blamed for his overload of lingering camera shots of the lovely Ms. Pinto in “Trishna.” However, at this point in her acting career she does not really possess the dramatic range to keep the viewer enthralled for the entire movie, and her co-star, Riz Ahmed, unknown to American movie-going audiences, doesn’t really help enough. Besides, his role is unsympathetic, and eventually hers is, as well.
“Trishna” is a tragic story (some say a re-work of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”). She’s a poor village girl whose biggest adventure was riding in the back of her father’s pickup truck while he made his grocery deliveries, until one day he falls asleep at the wheel and has a wreck, injuring himself badly, and sweet, trusting Trishna (Pinto) winds up with facial lacerations and a broken arm. However, she’d already been noticed by Jay (Ahmed) and his buddies, who happened to pass by in Jeep. Jay’s Dad is rich, the owner of several luxury hotels, and Jay is accustomed to the finer things without really having to work for them. He offers Trishna a job as a food server at one of his father’s hotels, and she gratefully accepts, because her family needs the money she can send back to them while her father is laid up from the accident. However, she soon discovers that Jay expects a payback from her.
At first, she deludes herself into thinking that he loves her, and she can be his girlfriend, but it’s not long before he’s taking her for granted, then demanding that she demean herself, and she seems to have few options available to her. His character becomes despicable for his crass manipulation, and hers becomes sad because of her un-self-respecting acquiescence. But we can’t root for her Dad, who’s disowned her, or her Mom, who’s banned her, or her supposed new friends, who don’t really care about her, either. In the end, it’s tragic for everyone. Beware the ravaging rapaciousness of the formerly ravishing.
In the meantime, however, we get a native’s-eye view of India, including bustling modern Mumbai, complete with the crowded streets and the teeming markets and the cultural uniqueness. We get native dancing and music. And at the end, we feel we have truly been in another world for a couple of hours, which is a goal in itself for the adventurous moviegoer. Too bad this particular foreign film isn’t as compelling as it might have been, despite the “plot borrowing” from a literary classic of another era.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas